What are the greatest names in bop? Many would readily answer Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell. Another great name is rarely mentioned. Theodore “Fats” Navarro died tragically young, but left his mark on the emerging jazz form. A victim of chronic tuberculosis, Navarro’s health spiraled toward his death at the tender age of 27. But what a legacy he left us!
I had the luck to first hear of this phenomenon on Ed Beach’s “Just Jazz” show, a daily feature of Riverside Church’s late great FM service, WRVR (which, now sold, appears, alas, to be “continuous soft rock.”)* It took a stint abroad for me to see my first Fats Navarro LP. The cozy little record store in Oxford, England, which I frequented weekly, had two volumes of a “Fats Navarro Memorial.” Finally I could study the trumpeter and ponder his impact on jazz. The liner notes writer, Ken Barnes, lays it on the line: